Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Washington State Learning First Alliance Summit
September 20, 2002
It is an honor to be here with such a hardworking, dedicated group of people.
I want to thank Tony for the introduction.
As you may know, Tony is the Principal of Central Elementary in the Ferndale School District.
I met Tony last year when Central Elementary in Ferndale was proclaiming reading “School of the Month” in January 2002.
Keep up the great work!
This afternoon I’d like to talk about the progress we’ve made in education reform.
I’ll identify some areas where we still need to make improvements.
Then I’ll discuss what we must focus on to meet our children’s needs.
Education remains my top priority.
My daughter Emily started Kindergarten two weeks ago.
That was a big day in the Locke household.
Mom and Dad were a lot more nervous about it than Emily.
Talking to my daughter about how things are going in school each day adds one more very valuable perspective to my thinking about how to make sure our state gives kids the best education possible.
We’ve made important progress since education reform legislation was passed in our state in 1993.
We have established specific standards.
And we have started to measure our progress in meeting those standards.
We have focused on academic leadership and best teaching practices in our schools.
We’re seeing a more collaborative environment in schools.
Educators are working together within and between grade levels and subject areas.
They are working together to create a more seamless education system for our kids.
Schools with incredible gains in reading and math have embraced this collaborative approach.
And parents and the community are playing a more active role in improving our schools.
It’s important that we keep this momentum in education reform going.
But we can’t afford to feel too pleased with our accomplishments yet.
There is still so much to do.
There are still some glaring areas where our report card says “Needs Improvement.”
Our children are showing progress on the WASL.
But we are still far from results that will make sure that “no child is left behind.”
For Example, we are still experiencing an achievement gap.
It’s important to celebrate the accomplishments of a decade’s worth of education reform efforts.
But we can’t afford to look back.
We must instead concentrate on how to strengthen the foundation for the next 10 years.
It’s time to consider mid-course corrections for the coming decade.
We must work harder to make our expectations for students both clear and understood.
Students need to know how they will be assessed in every subject area.
Refinements are also needed in the assessment system and Certificate of Mastery.
Now is the time to make these refinements.
The class of 2008 is in the seventh grade today.
Now is the time to make adjustments and give our kids the best chance to succeed.
And while we should and do have high expectations of students, we need to be realistic, too.
Not everyone shares the depth of our commitment.
Ambitious but realistic expectations will help us in maintaining credibility and public support for our efforts.
These interim adjustments and moderate course corrections are important.
But what must we do to give our state the future educational system our children deserve?
Let’s start by recognizing that we must work together and stick together.
Our opponents in this cause are as persistent as they are wrong.
Improving education is a partnership of the organizations represented here today, plus government, and communities—it is a partnership for the future.
So let’s keep working together.
We must develop an agenda together to improve academic achievement for all students.
As you deliberate today and tomorrow, I know the dialogue will be productive.
I hope you will keep seven important points in mind during your discussions.
First, things have changed.
We all know that students must develop certain academic skills and knowledge to succeed as adults.
That’s how it worked for us, too.
But the skills and knowledge are different for this century than the last.
Second, learning is a lifelong process.
It begins with very early learning experiences at home and in pre-school.
Beginning students aren’t blank slates.
But education doesn’t end with high school or college. Adults need opportunity for constant learning.
We need more parental and community involvement.
Parents and communities are absolutely critical to the education of every child.
I know parents are well represented here at this event.
Kids need their parents’ support, encouragement, instruction and advocacy, from pre-school through college.
Education is too important in a child’s life to happen without active, constant parental and community involvement.
Third, beginning students aren’t blank slates.
Children must be adequately prepared to succeed in school from the very first day of kindergarten.
Early learning is the foundation for lifelong success.
Fourth, good teaching rules.
Our kids need good teachers every year and in every subject.
Research clearly shows that the single most important factor in a child’s education is the quality of teaching.
We expect our students to meet high standards.
We must expect the same of our teachers.
But it doesn’t happen by accident.
Good teachers are not born that way—they are developed.
They are developed through pre-service training, early mentoring, and ongoing professional development.
As this fall’s events have so dramatically illustrated, we need to improve our compensation of educators.
We need to attract and retain the best and the brightest.
We need to pay educators better, and we need to pay them smarter.
Lee Iacocca once said, “In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers, and the rest of us would have to settle for something else.”
Most of us here today probably agree with those words.
That value should be reflected in how we “value” teachers.
Fifth, children’s difficulties should be both seen and heard—and addressed.
The sooner academic difficulties are identified and addressed, the better chance students have to overcome them.
From kindergarten readiness to college readiness, diagnostic assessments must be available to teachers to identify needs.
Resources must be available to address those needs.
Teachers must have the time, training, and professional development required to help.
And students need to be able to get that help immediately, as soon as academic difficulties arise.
To wait is to fail the student.
Sixth, we must close the achievement gap.
The gap is severe for low-income and minority children.
Fewer than 50% of eligible low-income children are served in state and federal pre-school programs.
We need to raise that percentage.
The WASL scores of low income and minority children continue to lag behind higher income and white populations.
We’ve all read the recent studies and reports.
These reports tell us that average high school graduation rates are unacceptably low.
And they are considerably lower for minority students.
And college enrollment figures for minority students are substantially lower than for others.
From pre-school through college, we must close the achievement gap.
Seventh and finally, we must manage expectations.
We have high expectations for our kids.
They need to clearly understand what parents and teachers expect.
And they need to be motivated to meet and exceed those expectations.
Students won’t succeed without an incentive to succeed.
Right now, some students don’t know what’s expected.
Some leave high school unprepared for college work.
Some don’t take challenges like the WASL seriously.
They don’t understand the consequences. Or they have no incentive to do well.
We need to change that.
Students must know that what they learn in high school matters—and parents and educators need to know that too.
Colleges and universities can help by relying on WASL scores as part of college admissions.
The development of “College Readiness Standards” for use in college placement and admissions would also help clarify expectations—and provide an incentive for students to live up to them.
In closing, I want to add that we can not short change education.
Yes, these are tough economic times.
This week we projected a state budget deficit of almost $2 billion.
And no, there aren’t easy solutions to education funding.
But, I’m reminded of something that famed Harvard President Derek Bok said: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”
To those who assert that we can’t afford to fund education, there is a simple answer: we can’t afford not to.
Our children depend on us to give them a chance—we must not let them down.
Their future is at stake—and so is our legacy.
As I said at the outset, education remains my top priority.
I will protect education funding as much as possible in my budget proposal.
I will also work with you to find solutions that keep us on track with education reform.
Thank you all dedication to education.
There is no more worthy cause, more important job, and more noble pursuit.
Keep up the great work!